Each year at Thanksgiving, I am faced with a major choice—and it doesn’t involve what kind of pie to have. It’s whether I will pack up with a group of female friends after dinner and take part in an all-night, Black Friday shopping tradition.
Part of me would love to experience this bonding adventure. Being wise stewards and busy moms, the women who participate see this as an opportunity to get Christmas shopping nearly done in one fell swoop, and at a good price. The price they pay is that they are in bed recuperating most of the day on Friday. I feel the pull every year to jump in the car with them but am always relieved the next day when I am better rested!
While my own experience might seem fun and quaint, there are larger issues to consider. Some say the Black Friday tradition is proof of rampant consumerism, and we as Christians shouldn’t participate.
Every year, holiday-related marketing starts earlier and earlier, which seems to dispel the real magic of this season of gratitude. In recent years, Black Friday has begun to encroach upon Thanksgiving Day itself. And now it’s Black Friday for weeks.
Are we getting sucked into the marketing vortex? How do we as Christians respond to what we see happening? And, is capitalism the real problem?
I went back and read two fabulous IFWE blog writers who have written in past years about Black Friday and capitalism. Here are some of their insights:
Don’t Forget Our Call to Family
Elise Daniel reminds us of what Os Guinness calls our primary and secondary callings. Our primary calling is to Christ, to grow in his likeness. Our secondary calling is to live that out through our secondary callings, like our call to family. She writes:
God has called us to follow him through our callings to our family, church, community, and vocation, according to Os Guinness. However, God doesn’t tell us in the Bible how many hours per week to spend with our families or at work, let alone whether or not we should go shopping on Thanksgiving.
But I’m reminded of Ecclesiastics 3, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The question at hand is one of prudence—what is the appropriate thing to do on a day like Thanksgiving?
Each person may answer that question differently, she says, so be careful in judging others’ choices.
Don’t Confuse Capitalism with Consumerism
But maybe the problem is deeper—with the system itself. Did capitalism produce the Black Friday madness? Daniel writes about the importance of separating capitalism from consumerism:
Capitalism is just an economic system—an imperfect one—that reflects the values we put into it, so if we feed it consumerism, that’s what we’ll get… In other words, we (the consumers) are guilty of turning Thanksgiving into a consumerist holiday… Even though consumers are the culprits, this doesn’t mean everyone who participates in Black Thursday is guilty of consumerism.
Don’t Create a Worse Problem by Trying to “Fix” Capitalism
Jonathan Witt joins Daniel in lamenting the marketing madness as a reflection of cultural decay. However, he warns of trying to fix the issue by ditching capitalism for what may seem like a more civilized system:
If capitalism is the primary culprit for cultural decay, as some suggest, an obvious response would be to discard capitalism and opt for a highly planned economy, in which the government tames the people’s greed through periodic and aggressive redistribution and, in the more extreme scenario, owns or controls the means of production.
This approach has a superficial plausibility about it: get ordinary people out of the sordid business of accumulating wealth and all that endless shopping and selling, and find some conscientious civil servants in government to take care of dividing up the wealth equitably, freeing up the rest of us to focus on putting in a good day’s work, raising our families, and enjoying a little leisure time.
An enticingly simple solution. Unfortunately, it has failed everywhere it has been tried. Whether in Russia, Eastern Europe, or other parts of the world, it has tended to fuel political corruption and crowd out civil institutions. It also has tended to replace an ownership culture with a rental culture, characterized by a declining sense of personal responsibility. The results were accelerated cultural decay, not cultural renewal.
The root issue is our hearts, and those don’t change with a different economic system. In fact, the alternatives, as tried in former communist countries, will do greater damage to our culture-at-large. That said, there is a conversation to be had about the role Christians can play in restoring virtue to capitalism today.
Final Thoughts on Black Friday
So, to shop or not to shop? Some may choose not to shop to send a message that Thanksgiving is about family, not shopping. Others may choose to join the all-night shopping adventure, either as part of a family tradition or because they are trying to be good stewards.
The bigger issue with the increasing amount of consumerism is not capitalism itself but our own hearts. It is easy to be deceived into thinking that more stuff with fill us or make our children happy. We have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only he can fill.
May your Thanksgiving be first and foremost about giving thanks for all that we’ve been given in Christ.
Editor’s note: Does capitalism produce consumerism? Read the answer to this and other questions about capitalism in Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism.
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Photo credit: Powhusku from Laramie, WY, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons